The Recovery Funds should respond to the strategic priorities set out by the European Commission, including employment and fighting poverty. However, an initial assessment of the submitted draft national recovery plans suggests that they largely miss investment in social inclusion and social services reform, writes Alfonso Lara Montero.
Alfonso Lara Montero is the chief executive officer of European Social Network.
Nine months after European leaders agreed the European Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) of €672.5 billion to support the European economy after COVID-19, there are still 10 countries that have not yet ratified the RRF or submitted their recovery plans to the EU.
So far, 17 of the 27 EU member states have ratified the RRF, including France, Italy, and Spain. The Netherlands, Finland, Poland, and Austria are among those that have not yet ratified the process.
Meanwhile, the deadline for countries to bring their recovery plans to Brussels concludes on April 30, although the Commission has already assumed that some countries will not send their plans by then.
The process was bogged down until last week in the largest EU country, Germany. However, on April 21, the German Constitutional Court cleared the way to ratification of the RRF by rejecting the emergency appeal against its approval presented by a citizen initiative close to the far right.
Poland is currently one of the biggest concerns when it comes to ratification, fuelled by division over the funds in its governing coalition.
Countries planning to present their final programmes on time have expressed their frustration about the lengthy process. In addition, their national plans need to be approved by the Commission, a process that may take up to three additional months.
Several countries fear that the arrival of the funds might be delayed until the autumn from the initial target date of January and have urged the Commission to accelerate this process.
These countries argue that they have been negotiating their recovery and reform programme since last October and therefore do not understand why Brussels now needs an additional 60 days to evaluate them.
With China’s GDP now growing and the United States having the foundations of growth in place through its large economic stimulus package, the European Union is under renewed pressure to approve its aid package or risks delayed social and economic recovery.
Our initial assessment of 10 of the draft national plans submitted to the Commission seems to reiterate that the approach to addressing social issues has been taken primarily through reskilling and labour market activation.
For example, France’s plan dedicates around €13 billion towards youth activation in comparison to the €100 million for support for the most vulnerable. In the Czech Republic, the plan is primarily focused on providing education and vocational training that responds to digitisation and automation of work.
In Germany, just 4.7% is devoted to social inclusion, with a proposal to invest 61% of this amount in vocational training for young people.
In the Spanish plan, draft guidelines agreed between national and regional governments propose investing 50% of EU funds in long-term care residential facilities, rather than community and home-based care.
While the Slovenian plan foresees substantial investment in social protection and long-term care, it fails to make financing proposals to reinforce the social services workforce, support for children with families including poverty eradication, child protection and support to adulthood for young people leaving state care.
The Recovery Funds should respond to the strategic priorities set out by the European Commission. Its Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights sets three targets related to employment and fighting poverty. But the draft plans submitted so far seem to largely miss much-needed investment in social inclusion and social services reform to make them a reality.
Current plans appear to miss a focus on social services and social care innovation and reform towards a more community and home-based model, and specifically funding for their workforce.
By doing so, they fail to grasp the economic impact that a well-resourced social services sector adds and ignore the evidence that increased participation in the labour market by vulnerable groups would be helped through investing in the sector.
As the Commission assesses the national plans, it should ensure that its assessment underlines the need to invest in structural reforms that transform the public social services and social care model to one that promotes preventive family and local community-based social services, reinforces home care, ensures community social care after hospital discharge, and addresses current employment and skill gaps.